New Research: Which Herbs and Spices Improve Your Health

Some spices are much more than just flavor enhancers; they may help you live a healthier life as well.

by Dean Ornish | MD from Reader's Digest | April 2007
  • Loading

    Seasonings have been used since Biblical times to perk up the flavor of food. What’s new: research showing that some of them can enhance your health.

    The USDA estimates that the average American consumes 3.3 pounds of spices annually, but more than a quarter of that is black and white pepper and mustard seed (in prepared mustard). Mustard seeds contain lots of protective substances called phytochemicals, which may inhibit the growth of existing cancer cells and help prevent normal cells from turning into cancerous ones. The following herbs and spices also have some amazing attributes, including reducing risk of heart attack or cancers.

    1. Turmeric

    This herb of the ginger family provides the yellow color in curries. It’s a powerful antioxidant and has been used in Indian and Chinese medicine for centuries. Preliminary studies suggest it may help prevent or even treat Alzheimer’s disease. In some Indian villages where turmeric is popular, there are unusually low rates of Alzheimer’s. Turmeric also enhances immune function, improves digestion and may reduce your risk of heart attack. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, scientists are studying curcumin, one of the most active substances in turmeric, as a possible treatment for cystic fibrosis.

    2. Ginger

    You may know that studies have demonstrated that ginger is effective in preventing the symptoms of motion sickness, especially seasickness. In addition, it can be useful in reducing the nausea and vomiting brought on by pregnancy. To get the stomach-calming benefits, simply steep an ounce or two of fresh gingerroot in a cup of hot water.

    Ginger also contains an inflammation-fighting substance called gingerol, which may help reduce pain and improve function in people who have arthritis.

    3. Rosemary

    This common herb contains substances that have an anti-inflammatory effect, which may improve immune function and circulation, and reduce the severity of asthma attacks. Used as aromatherapy, it may enhance memory and cognition.

    4. Coriander

    Also called cilantro, coriander is rich in protective phytochemicals and is a good source of iron, magnesium, and manganese.

    5. Cinnamon

    One of the oldest spices known, cinnamon seems to reduce inflammation, and recent studies show that it may also be especially beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes. In one study, consuming less than a 1/4 a day reduced blood sugar in people with diabetes by about 20% and lowered triglycerides, LDL (“bad”) and total cholesterol. In another, chewing cinnamon gum, or simply smelling the spice, improved attention and memory.

    Bonus: Cancer Fighters

    Some herbs may also help ward off cancer or slow the growth of tumors. In a USDA review of 39 herbs, researchers found that oregano, dill, thyme, and rosemary have some of the highest levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants. Other studies suggest that turmeric, sage, clove, ginger, and chili pepper may help fight the killer disease. 

    Your Comments

    • Aileen

      how to use rosemary for pain ?

    • Jack Meili

      Consuming “consuming less than a 1/4 a day” of what? A stick, a teaspoon or  tablespoon of powder, or what? Who eats the sticks? For all herbs and spices, give measurable quantities: ounces, grams, teaspoons, tablespoons, etc.

    • Jack Meili

      Which is better for one – ground-up seeds or the green leaves that are usually used in cooking? Corriander (mature plant) and Cilantro (young plant) are readily available. I’ve never seen the seeds for retail sale.

      • smist

        The local Indian store will have corriander seeds but it can be pricey. Ground up seeds are better when cooking and the green leaves are used to garnish, so best not cook the cilantro leaves.

    • http://www.facebook.com/gladictas.rdeatkinson Gladictas R De Atkinson

      life needs spices too.